Shooting an arrow in Maximum City
Text and photos: Sreetama Sen
Bombay. Ever growing, ever awake. Busy, relentless, and oblivious to the little things in life. Rapid modernization has only reinforced one thing: The day that Bombay would be the ‘future’ of urban civilisation, as Suketu Mehta had envisaged in his book Maximum City (2004), is here.
It is the present.
I’m walking around Malabar Hill. In all its grandeur, the area leaves most Bombaywallahs in awe, let alone the tourists. The Raj Bhawan may be one—but not the only—reason that this area is considered to be for the ‘affluent’.
I walk a little slower. Walk with me.
On Walkeshwar Road, turn into the almost invisible right turn to the 2nd Cross Lane and climb down the stairs.
Take a deep breath.
You’re no longer part of that Bombay that lives on as a 'busy' cliché.
Welcome to Banganga Tank.
You are now in one of the oldest inhabited neighbourhoods of Bombay. And to top it off, here’s a Bombay water body that is not the Arabian Sea – yes it is a ‘tank’, but a tank like no other.
Surrounded by numerous unplanned houses and narrow lanes, the Banganga accommodates hundreds of residents. It has temples that look like mosques, and graveyards which bury Hindus (yes, bury, not burn).
Look around a little more, and there are the remnants of an old mosque and some Buddhist structures too. Gaur Saraswat Brahmins and their trusts own most of the region, it is said. Their temples too abound. Jains are not left behind here either, with a temple of their own.
Every January, all the residents here also take active part in the two-day annual Banganga Music Festival too.
Smell the air at Bangaga, and before you know it, you’ll learn of it being wrought with mythology. The music festival is said to be a tribute to Lord Ram. The extremely long and unmissable metallic object in the middle of the tank (from the second picture above), is said to be the arrow of Lord Ram. He’d shot it in order to get water to quench his thirst, which resulted in the creation of this tank.
Another version says that the inhabitants requested him to do so to solve the problem of water scarcity in the region— some say that it was actually his brother Lakshman who shot the arrow. Yet another version attributes the tank to Parshuram’s axe!
Regardless of whether due to the arrow or the axe, Banganga’s water is still considered auspicious. Walk by the stairs and the many women and priests (and ducks) taking a holy dip here, stand testament to this.
The moment you turn around to step out of the lane, the Maximum City is back. You’re back to the well-planned Malabar Hill roads. It almost feels like you’ve time-travelled and come back, grudgingly.
The tank isn’t a tourist destination, and not many Bombaywallahs know of it either. It took just a simple walk to find how Bombay’s clichés are reversed (and magnified) here: Banganga sleeps when it should. It has the time to halt and pray, and not because it is oblivious to the world outside, but maybe because it has seen it all (including a Portuguese invasion) and decided that the mad rush is just not worth it.
In its un-rushed wakefulness Banganga exists— not so far away from bustle, very far away from the clichés, and right in the heart of the Maximum City.
Sreetama Sen loves books, food, and new experiences. When without the three, she spends time seeking them. She is also a graduate in arts and law, importantly in that order and practises corporate law in Mumbai. When not at her desk at work, she likes to write about things that interest her and may amuse readers.